May 6, 2004 -- “Coral Reef Adventure” is another environmental-friendly nature film from director Greg MacGillivray, who specializes in films in the huge Imax format. I saw this at the Imax theater in the Denver Museum of Nature and History. The images are as stunning as one might expect from this giant-film, giant-screen format. There is a bit of a story and some drama to go with the images, as well as the usual lecture about human-caused environmental degradation one expects with this kind of forum.
Various coral reefs are explored in this globe-trotting adventure. Jean-Michel Cousteau (who owns a resort in the Fiji Islands), one of the sons of Jaques Cousteau even shows up in the film. There is also a nice soundtrack of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young songs, some of them sung in native languages. One humorous scene shows scuba divers (scuba equipment was originally invented by Jaques Cousteau) being swept along by a very powerful ocean current to sounds of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song “Marakech Express.”
There are a great assortment of colorful fish and other creatures, including sharks, of course. In one of the few dramatic scenes, a diver in one of the expeditions suffers from nitrogen narcosis and must be hospitalized in Fiji. Some of the dives are very deep, documenting some of the deepest portions of reef ever seen on film. Both healthy reefs and dead reefs are shown in the film. Not surprisingly, over-fishing, global warming and water pollution are blamed for the dying or dead reefs.
The film supports the commonly accepted view that it is commercial fishing, not traditional subsistence fishing by natives that causes damage to the reefs. The filmmakers obviously have a friendly relationship with the Fiji natives, and the film lionizes their traditional sustainable limits on fishing. Filmmakers are clearly troubled by one reef, protected by the natives, which is, nevertheless, in decline. Silt from a logging operation in a forest far upstream affecting a nearby river is blamed on that one. The filmmakers are clearly relieved to find a cause (logging) that fits their theories.
A recent two-year study of coral reefs in Fiji conducted by Nicholas K. Dulvy Robert P. Freckleton and Nicholas V. C. Polunin of the Newcastle University's School of Marine Sciences and Technology is at odds with some of the theories put forth in the film. This study (published in the journal “Ecology Letters”), indicates that even traditional low-level subsistence fishing methods as used by current Fiji natives are causing serious damage to the coral reefs. This study was not mentioned in the film, possibly because the study may not have been completed until after the film wrapped.
The film's environmental message is a common one: the sky is falling and human beings are to blame. If we could just get rid of those pesky human beings, the world would be a perfect Garden of Eden. The message of the film is carefully crafted not to portray the situation as us (humans) against them (all other life on earth). It tries to have it both ways. The message is we can have a pure environment if we just cut back on fishing at bit, and maybe reduce industrial carbon dioxide emissions, too. The real situation is more desperate than that, and it is being driven not so much by the industrialized nations of the world, where population growth is low, but by the exploding population in the Third World nations. That fact has some very ugly implications inherent in it which this film does not want to address. For instance, the population growth rate in Fiji is 1.41 percent (the population of Fiji could double in 50 years), versus less than one percent in the U.S. The population in Europe is expected to decline in the next 20 years. The population growth rate in France, for instance, is about one-third of one percent. The population growth rate in Saudi Arabia is 3.27 percent, by comparison. That means Saudi Arabia's population could double in less than 25 years.
The exploding population in Third World nations, combined with declining populations in industrialized nations, not only has environmental implications but it can lead to serious political and economic instability as well. Environmental dogma has long demonized technology and industrialization as the chief culprits in global environmental decline, and this film is no different. However, the real problem may be basic human biology, as well as cultural and religious factors which may be far more dangerous than technology or industrialization could ever be. It may well turn out that the noble savages are not so noble after all. Just look at what they did to Easter Island. They savagely decimated the environment, using only stone age technology. The film's formula for saving the world's coral reefs could be quite inaccurate. The situation is likely much more complicated, and politically incorrect, than the film shows us.
Nevertheless, the film does show us lots of very pretty images with lots of dazzling colors. There is also an element of real science, which one expects when the National Science Foundation put up some of the money for the film, along with many other institutions. The trouble is, science and environmentalism often don't mix that well. Science is factual, focusing on repeatable experiments and verifiable theories. Environmentalism is essentially a romantic philosophy which seeks to separate humans from all other living things and holds up nature (free of human influence) as an almost godlike ideal. Mixing these two very different forms of thought leads to either weakened science, or weakened art, or both, as in the case of this movie. This film rates a C+.
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